Standing Room Only

Closing Night for Severance?

Early into last Friday’s status hearing we learned of a letter that Joe Price counsel Bernie Grimm had sent (also on behalf of his three defense team colleagues) to Judge Lynn Leibovitz.

Long described as one of the “great courtroom showmen,” DC’s very own George M. Cohan fired off this one-page letter on March 11, a day before the hearing.

Unlike the notices that have peppered the clerk’s office in recent weeks, this one had less to do with legal motions on discovery, testing, and procedures and far more to do with the staging of the trial, now scheduled to open on Monday, May 10

Anticipating they’ll outgrow the cramped confines of Leibovitz’ courtroom, #310, the Trouple’s Troupe wants a much larger stage for their performance and accompanying audio-visual exhibits.

Leibovitz addressed the issue briefly before setting it aside to turn to the other business of the day, but not before Grimm could underscore the request with one of his self-deprecating asides.

At the top of each hearing, the attorneys identify themselves, their understudies and their clients for the record.  Dylan Ward’s counsel David Schertler introduced himself, colleague Robert Spagnoletti and their associate Veronica Jennings;  Victor Zaborsky’s man Thomas Connolly spoke for himself and his colleague Amy Richardson.  Alone, Grimm, who for years performed a one-man-show but is now with Cozen O’Connor, joked that, “The rest of my legal team couldn’t fit in this courtroom.”

There would be more cheeky chatter from Bernie later that afternoon, but let’s review his letter first.  Reading between the lines we see some not so subtle foreshadowing:  Curtains for those three motions to sever?  Or maybe the hook.

In Grimm’s letter, he announced what he expected the trial’s cast to look like:

“Each defendant is actively represented by no less than two counsel.  The Government is purporting to call no less than six to ten experts.  The defendants, collectively, will call no less than 10 experts.”

The defense also plans to introduce a significant number of exhibits, many of which will require electronic equipment that will take up space beyond the parameters of a standard courtroom.

Presently, all counsel, defendants, their files and exhibits cannot fit inside a standard courtroom.”

Grimm also noted that, “The Government is not opposed to this request.”

As far as Grimm’s headcount of cast members when the trial opens, he neglected to mention many of the headliners expected on the bill:  housemate Sarah Morgan,  defendant Price’s brother Michael, the two EMTs, Dr. Lois Goslinoski, the many MPD officers and detectives and last but certainly not least, mystery witness “W-5.”

This sounds like a more than reasonable request, but what does this say about the motions to sever and ask for separate trials of the three defendants?

It seems that the defense is resigned to the fact that Judge Leibovitz will not rule in their favor.  If the defense was aiming for single defendant hearings, why the need for a larger courtroom?

About an hour into last Friday’s hearing, Judge Leibovitz addressed the subject.  She’ll inquire about a larger room but since, “…people senior to me have the big courtrooms,” all she can do is ask.  Saucily, Grimm, noting her relative youth compared to her elderly Superior Court colleagues said, “Everyone in this courthouse is older than this Court.”   More chuckles.

Schertler rose to expand on the request inquiring if an “electronic courtroom” might be available to accommodate his A/V needs.  We learn that Superior Court Associate Judge Herbert Dixon’s courtroom is outfitted, but it may not up and running yet.  Dixon, senior to Leibovitz by nearly 15 years may have earned the right for a wired courtroom, he graduated from Howard University with a degree in electrical engineering and serves on the ABA’s Panel on Technology.

AUSA Glenn Kirschner interjected, having played nearly every courtroom in Moultrie, saying that Dixon’s was, “…even smaller and more cramped.”   Schertler was on his feet again and upped the request, he asked if a move across the street to the Federal Courthouse and use a room there as Superior Court Judge Henry Greene had recently done.  

Leibovitz spurned Schertler out of hand: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to ask about that courtroom.”   Federal Court?  That’s like playing The Palace.

One wonders if this letter has been sitting on Cozen servers waiting for someone to hit ‘send.’  The header on page 2 indicates the intended recipient is the case’s previous judge, Frederick Weisberg.  He as they say, “went out with Mrs. Fiske.”

At the next status hearing on April 5, Judge Leibovitz may rule on the motions to sever.  Many hours and thousands of dollars may have been billed towards those filings, but if she treats them anything like she did on the motion to dismiss, it will be S.R.O., Severance Rejected Outright.

-posted by Craig

10 comments for “Standing Room Only

  1. Robert
    03/19/2010 at 10:39 AM

    CRAIG I was just curious as to why you brought up the issue of urinalysis for the purose of detecting paracetemol-codeine?

    • Doug
      03/19/2010 at 11:08 AM

      Robert; I think you may be referring to the recent Metro Weekly article. I spoke with Yusef Najafi, who has been doing great work covering this case. I was actually referring to succinylcholine – which the prosecution has mentioned in several filings – and it must have just been transcribed incorrectly.
      Doug, co-editor

  2. Nora
    03/19/2010 at 1:58 PM

    I still have a nagging curiosity about W-5. Why has this witness been impossible to identify so far? I am unversed on court procedure, so please correct me if I’m wrong – could it be that her or his identity is being guarded for a reason? I.e., is there the suggestion that she or he may be very close to the defendents?

    The possibilities make one dizzy….

    • Bea
      03/19/2010 at 2:47 PM

      Agree that W-5 is one intriguing character – and I hope he/she tells the same story on the stand that he/she told the cops initially, that Joe said he pulled the knife out of Robert’s chest. The power of that is phenomenal, erasing the possibility that someone else faked the knife.

      From what we’ve gathered here, it would seem that W-5 was one of the folks who gathered for the early morning breakfast at Cosi following the fateful night. I think someone posited that it was an interior designer friend (don’t know if primarily a friend of Sarah’s or one/more of the defendants). I’m sure the defendants know who W-5 is, but for privacy purposes, the prosecution hasn’t released the name. Or so I speculate.

  3. 03/19/2010 at 2:05 PM

    I’m a paralegal, and I find the number of typos and errors in the pleadings and letters surprising. I don’t work in criminal defense, so maybe little mistakes are excused or over-looked in that area, but in insurance defense it would be embarassing to send out or file documents with the type of errors found in the defense’s documents. Do any of you know if these defense attorneys are particularly sloppy, or is this common? I would think expensive, high-profile DC attorneys would be a little more careful. I know this isn’t really important to figuring out this case, I just find it interesting.

    • Carolina
      03/24/2010 at 7:23 PM

      I thought the same thing. This should never happen, especially in this age of spellcheck and find and replace. It makes them appear as if they threw it together after an all-night bender, or that they’re so confident that no amount of typos will matter.

      My uncle was a judge in RI and one of the many things that would offend him was sloppy work, especially typos and bad cut and paste jobs. I know it’s petty, but he was a puffed up kind of man who liked things done his way, and any screw up showed disrespect to the court in his opinion.

  4. Clio
    03/19/2010 at 11:36 PM

    Birdie appreciated Bernie’s impeccable timing: his outburst in reference to the adverb “directly” apparently was just right.

    BTW, in reference to Bernie’s stationary, I like Cozen O’Connor’s sophisticated logo, but their slogan “a professional corporation” seems to protest a little too much.

    Sargeant Plante’s demonstration of the restraining devices (perhaps on Counselor Grimm as a volunteer) may need more space; any props or models (giving the flavor and dimensions of 1509 Swann) would need at least a decent side table. And, remember the characterization of Swann as a sardine can: isn’t it fitting that the trouple will be tried in an even more confining venue? I can hardly restrain myself!!

  5. 03/20/2010 at 1:30 PM

    i’m getting the sense that the defense attorney Grimm is, like many such people, not so much a showman but a egomaniac off the charts. I think this bodes well for the prosecution as Grimm’s pride and delusion will lead to his client’s downfall…

    • Clio
      03/20/2010 at 1:38 PM

      Detective Folts’ matchmaking obviously made a match: arrogant attorney needs arrogant attorney — details at 5:45 am in Anacostia in August?

    • Craig
      03/20/2010 at 4:52 PM

      Wentworth: Until this case we’ve never seen Grimm in action. He seems like the odd man out compared to the three more ‘straight-laced’ co-counsel, and Kirschner & Martin too for that matter.

      I wonder if he’ll dial it back when he’s in front of a jury.

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